The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Thursday last week published its final list of candidates vying for the governorship election in Ondo State.
The list, which turned out to be a revised one after the earlier publication of a final list, saw the inclusion of Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The development has continued to cause discomfort within the PDP and the state in general, as spontaneous violent protests greeted the development, suggesting, that Ibrahim may not be wanted not just by the PDP but also by the people of the state at large.
As a politician, Ibrahim is known to have romanced parties like the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, under which he sought to be the Ondo State governor in 2007 unsuccessfully. Curiously, he was in the ANPP the same year President Muhammadu Buhari had a failed attempt at the presidency under the same party.
After his stint with ANPP, he jumped to PDP before leaving again for Accord Party before the 2012 governorship election in the state, also because of his ambition to be governor. His return to the PDP has continued to be shrouded in controversy, as the state chapter of the party insists he is not a member as he has not officially returned.
The inclusion of Ibrahim as PDP candidate on INEC’s list has thrown up conjectures that are hard to ignore, with the first being the belief in many quarters that his candidature is a masterstroke delivered by APC strategists to weaken the chances of the PDP and ensure a smoother ride for its candidate, Rotimi Akeredolu, also a legal practitioner, and a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
The Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose, and a former minister of Transport, Ebenezer Babatope have both voiced this seeming plot by APC, which they describe as a masterstroke of pre-election rigging.
According to Babatope, “The disqualification of Jegede, the Ondo PDP candidate, is designed by President Buhari and the APC to electorally manipulate the Ondo State governorship election.”
He said, “President Muhammadu Buhari must be prevented from destroying democracy in Nigeria. The recent declaration in Ondo State has Buhari’s connections”, he affirmed.
Though this has remained largely unsubstantiated, it is, however, worthy of note that the candidature of Ibrahim on the platform of the PDP as a governorship candidate virtually translates to a walk over for the APC.
Read also: Ondo boils as more protests greet Jimoh’s candidature in PDP
If the views of many political watchers are taken seriously, Ibrahim might not just be a paper weight politician but largely a creation of the media when it comes to politicking, as he lacks any concrete political structure in the state that is capable of confronting a federal might behind Akeredolu.
An Eyitayo Jegede candidacy, as promoted and backed by Governor Olusegun Mimiko, analysts say, would have been a tough contest, and a straight fight between the PDP and the APC, given that Mimiko is also reputed to be a giant slayer, capable of springing surprises when considered an underdog.
As it stands, Ibrahim, with no structure is unlikely to get the full backing of Mimiko, whose relationship with Ibrahim over the years has been anything but cordial, as both men have seemingly engaged in a show of might over time, but putting up public shows of cordiality.
The second conjecture is the 2019 project. Analysts are of the opinion that the drama going on in Ondo State has the 2019 election as the target, as recent happenings in the polity, especially within the ruling APC show that a lot of realignment is going on and the Presidency is not left out in the scheming.
The Southwest, as usual, is the beautiful bride in which the Presidency is keen on having more than a foot hold on, in the aftermath of reported breakdown in President Muhammadu Buhari’s relationship with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
The theory is that with Akeredolu as governor of Ondo State, President Buhari’s camp in the APC would have expanded their sphere of influence landing themselves a key Southwest state than can be used to limit Tinubu’s influence come 2019 if he decides to spring surprises.
There are also suggestions in some quarters, that Ibrahim may just be playing the spoilers’ role to get a soft landing for the legal cases the government has instituted against him, and that it is not unlikely for him to dump the PDP, for the APC after the elections.
Recall that he has a running legal battle with the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) over funds of about N50 billion, reportedly owed by his companies. Also in the public domain is the fact he is yet to fully resolve the issues surrounding about N35.5 billion said to have been collected under the Aviation Intervention Fund to revive Air Nigeria, which he acquired from the federal government.
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The theories notwithstanding, one question that keeps popping up in the Ondo election debacle is, why is Jimoh Ibrahim so rejected not just by his party, PDP, but also appears to have a load of anti-people sentiment weighed heavily against him.
Findings by Ripples Nigeria show that Ibrahim’s seeming unpopularity derives mainly from a public perception that portrays him more as a showman than a politician with real progressive intentions. Many in the state see him as one who has never been consistent politically.
His business and managerial acumen is also another cause for concern.
While he prides himself as a business turn around expert, his critics have derisively named him ‘Nigerians Business Undertaker’. For these Nigerians, almost every business entity in the Global Fleet Group owned by Ibrahim is either seriously troubled or shadows of their former selves.
Ibrahim has, however, dismissed his critics as people with very poor appreciation of modern rudiments of business management and who are jealous of his rising profile. He has since knocked governor Mimiko and the Markafi PDP faction for instigating and orchestrating violence in Ondo as well as opposition to his candidature.
As the election approaches, and with the name of Olusola Oke making the final INEC list, it is expected that the candidate of the Alliance for Democracy, AD, will benefit from the current impasse if it persists.
Being a former member of the PDP and a preferred candidate to Ibrahim, Oke may just receive some protest votes that would improve his showing in the election but not necessarily his chances!
While the political intrigues are unfolding in Ondo by the minutes, one factor that would remain constant, however, is the Presidency’s interest in further encircling Tinubu and dimishing his sphere of influence and control, either directly or through proxies as emerging scenarios show.